- Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe
ISBN 978-0-544-30215-0 $16.99 R Gr. 7–10
Seventeen-year-old Ashe feels like he lives in a war zone, a cold war between his parents, who only stay together for his sake. Mom is an outspoken pacifist, who [End Page 251] participates in rallies against the Vietnam War; Dad is a hawk, who has just about reached the end of his patience with his wife’s activities. Ashe is philosophically aligned with his mother but appreciates his father’s support and affection, so he has brokered an uneasy truce with each. The brittle peace shatters when Mom becomes pregnant with the child of another protestor, Dad abandons her, and the two fight for custody of Ashe. The fact that the newborn girl is black sends Dad over the edge, and he threatens to cut off all financial assistance to his son if Ashe will not voluntarily live with him—an ultimatum that means that Ashe will lose his chance at college and a military deferment unless he renounces Mom and the half-sister he instinctively loves. The plot sounds like pure soap opera, and the structure of the novel, haiku verse with a syllable for each of the 16,592 soldiers killed in 1968, seems at first glance to be a forced gimmick. Crowe nonetheless pulls it off, with the themes of antiwar activism, women’s limited rights, racism, and patriotism intelligently braided together, and the workings of the Vietnam era draft system with its potential for discrimination and entrapment on full display. Readers will settle quickly into the haiku, most likely either ignoring it or pausing to take notice of those moments in which the rhythm cannily emulates speech patterns. YAs convinced they don’t like historical fiction should take a look at this gripping, fast-moving quick pick.